Monday, May 23, 2011


There are lots of things I learn as time passes. Exposure to new ideas, prayer, new thoughts of my own, conversations, and research have all added to the person I am and the convictions that I hold. When I first heard that circumcision was not a given I was frankly surprised. I had just assumed that everyone was circumcised. It never occurred to me to question or research this procedure. So much so that, had my girls been boys, it would have been done to them. No questions asked. Fortunately for my darling son, I had some conversations with a friend who shared the struggle she had with that decision. It surprised me at first. I had just assumed that especially being a Christian, that you would circumcise. That got me wondering and I started to research. What I found about this procedure was surprising at best and disturbing at worst.

I read the pro-circ websites and the pro-intact websites. I weighed the pros and cons and the more I read the more I felt convicted that if I had a son, I wanted him to be intact. My biggest hurdle was with the Biblical mandate in the Old Testament. Yes, the New Testament makes it clear that circumcision is not required, and yes there are lots of ceremonial commandments in the Old Testament that we don't follow (we don't ban women from church during certain times of the month for example) but there are some we do follow that have been shown to have medical benefits (waiting after giving birth before resuming intercourse, for example). I really struggled with whether, as a believer, I should have my son 'bear the mark' of the Covenant or not.

In my search for answers, I spoke with a dear friend whose son was older than my daughters and asked her how she had grappled with it. She hadn't really, but she promised me that she would see what she could find. A few days later I received an email that she had received from her former midwife about circumcision. In it, specifically, there was an article that addressed the Biblical mandate. According to the article, the circumcision that was prescribed in the Bible was a small incision at the tip only? It did not involve the removal of the entire foreskin. That practice came about during the Helenistic period when Jewish youth in Rome were trying to participate in sports and tried to make themselves appear the same as the intact Gentiles. It is documented that the Jewish rabbis of the time decided that Jewish boys should be proud to be Jewish and not hide it, so they prescribed the cutting off of the entire foreskin (a healthy, functioning, nerve filled organ). Whether cutting off the entire foreskin was the original design and the Jewish people had gotten lazy over hundreds of years or whether this was a new mandate, it made me wonder. In my research, I found sites that supported that article and ones that said that the Helenistic rabbis were merely returning to the original design. Helpful, really. Though the editors of the Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion support the changed circumcision notion.

I then found a site that talked about the original language. No, I won't bore you with the original language, but the language that was used when God told Abraham what to do was the word used to describe a knick or a mark or to blunt or shorten. Basically, to remove the extra skin on the end, not to separate the adhered skin underneath and cut off/remove the entire foreskin. There were other word choices at the time that would have described cutting off or removing, but they were not used. Interesting.

Having settled in our minds the last nagging question, the decision was made. Our son would be intact. Of course, I went on to do more research, watch videos, read pamphlets, etc. I don't understand why this procedure is still routine. The reasons that made it popular in America centered on all kinds of quack science - it could supposedly cure bedwetting, masturbation, dyslexia, mental retardation, epilepsy, etc. Not to mention the trauma that the procedure itself causes. Even though most doctors now use something for pain (up until 1997 not everyone did) it still cannot completely numb the dorsal nerve - meaning that the baby potentially feels pain during the procedure while they are tied to a plastic shell - unable to move or get away from the pain.

I am not going to say that the government should absolutely outlaw this entire thing (though they do outlaw female circumcision) simply because I think the government is way too involved in our lives and it interferes with religious practices (oh wait, outlawing female circumcision interferes with some religious practices too...) but at the VERY LEAST we should be fully educating parents on the function of the foreskin and the real risks involved in the procedure. Arguing that you want your son to look like you is not a valid reason - no little boy looks like his dad and when he is grown enough to possibly look like his dad, he isn't going to be seeing his dad. Arguing that it is cleaner is also a fallacy. In infancy, you just wipe the tip and move on. Once the foreskin retracts (on its own - don't force it!) you teach your son to retract it to clean himself. No more difficult that teaching little girls to clean themselves (actually, probably easier!). Arguing that you want your son to look like his peers doesn't work either. The rates of circumcision are dropping with the majority opting to skip this procedure (not that majority rules are a reason for something). Even the argument that it can prevent STD's and penile cancer are not strong enough to justify it. The supposed 'increase' in risk is so minute as to be statistically the same. A man has a greater chance of getting breast cancer than penile cancer - even if he is uncircumcised. We don't cut off women's breasts to avoid breast cancer, do we? As far as STD's go, if you are engaging in risky sexual behavior then you are likely to get an STD. It is more important to teach your son the value of abstinence until marriage and responsiblity than to cut off the foreskin and hope that helps protect him. Circumcised men can pass STD's on to their partner just like uncircumcised men can.

I just wish that more people were willing to look at the facts, do the research, and think before subjecting their sons to a surgical procedure that (for the vast majority of the cases) is purely cosmetic, and I don't think cosmetic reasons are a valid enough argument.

I don't fault parents who didn't have the information we have now. Like I said, even two years ago I wouldn't have know better. I am just grateful that I knew better in time. In time to keep my son intact. I know lots of moms who have had their boys circumcised. Some go on to regret it. Some never second guess their decision. Are they both good moms? Absolutely! Do they both love their boys more than words can say? Yes. We chose to avoid circumcision. I am not going to condemn or look down on someone who chooses to circumcise their son - though I would strongly encourage you to do the research first. Read the pro-circ pages. Read the pro-intact pages. Make an informed decision. It seems sad to me that people often choose to circ their son for cosmetic reasons only or for lack of knowlege. As moms, we need to do the research, pray like crazy, and make informed decisions for our kids to the best of our abilities..

No comments: